AGC Looks at Developments in Green Building Programs: Day One of Earth Week

AGC ‘Earth Week’ Article Series

Read AGC’s article on green building programs, see below.
Read AGC’s article on green road programs here.
Read AGC’s article on green infrastructure programs here.
Read AGC’s article on green residential programs here.
Read AGC’s article on green community programs here.

AGC is celebrating Earth Day (officially April 22) all week long by releasing an article a day exploring how the construction industry contributes to building a green future.  You can help us get the word out by linking to these articles via social media during “Earth Week.”  Today’s article (the first in AGC’s five-day series) features the gradual shift from voluntary to mandatory green building measures and looks at recent developments in green building programs.

Green buildings have matured and grown in the last 15 years to such an extent that the basic principles need little introduction to many in the building professions.  In a nutshell, green buildings aim to: (1) maximize the efficiencies of how a building uses water, raw materials and energy resources; and (2) enhance the well-being of the building’s occupants often through the materials used in the interior spaces or by providing a connection to nature, daylight, and community amenities.  For most construction professionals (unless you assist with the siting and design), the green building process adds a layer of detail to the tasks of sourcing and installing specified materials and systems, completing chains of custody and other documentation, taking precautions onsite, as well as training and managing the workers and subcontractors in the field. 

Shift from Voluntary to Mandatory Green Building

The growth of the green building market was driven mainly by the voluntary use of rating systems and standards by building owners; however, governments at the federal, state and local levels have encouraged its growth.  In the past, some governmental entities would develop their own programs or encourage the use of green building rating systems.  More recently, some have gone so far as to mandate the use of a particular rating system (in full or in part) for public and/or private buildings.  The shift from voluntary to mandatory seems to be gaining momentum as governments can now use model code language to quickly and easily adopt green building principles as a threshold for any new buildings within their jurisdiction.

In the last few years, two prominent organizations have developed “code-friendly” standards and model-code language that jurisdictions can adopt.  ASHRAE, with industry partners, released Standard 189.1 for high-performance buildings; and the International Code Council released the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) to provide model code language.  The two were not in conflict and, in fact, Standard 189.1 is an approved alternative compliance path for the IgCC.  Both also aligned well with the popular Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system.  However, a partnership announced in 2014 will further align the two programs giving governmental entities a solid path forward with green building code adoption.  Standard 189.1 and the IgCC will merge, and the new ”189” will then integrate with LEED.  Eventually, meeting 189 on a project would align that project with LEED prerequisites and streamline LEED certification.  Participating groups are the International Code Council (ICC), ASHRAE, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).  (More information on 189.1 is online here and the IgCC here.)

When studying Standard 189.1 and/or the IgCC, building professionals should keep in mind that there will still be some variation as jurisdictions tailor their green building code adoption to emphasize local and regional priorities.  In addition, adoption will be staggered as jurisdictions update their programs.  Jurisdictions also may choose a different route or choose to not address green building at all.  Changing the building code is a long, arduous and highly localized effort with opportunity for public discussion, and, if a green building code is adopted, then many building professionals (including design professionals, contractors and code inspectors) will need to be trained on the new requirements.

Reaching Beyond the Green Codes

Now that building codes are going green, one may ask whether there still a place for green building certification programs.  Many organizations have released programs in the last decade that push the market ever greener.  These programs address the main goals of green buildings highlighted above, albeit in their own unique way, and the popularity of their use has laid the foundation for the development of green building codes.  However, these programs also offer value in reaching beyond the green codes and continuing to improve the sustainability of buildings, such as achieving net zero energy buildings.  As green building codes are more widely adopted, building professionals can expect these voluntary programs to push the bar up even higher in order to remain relevant in the market.

AGC has provided below a brief introduction to some of the popular green building programs, as well as new and developing programs:

· Green Garage Certification - The Green Parking Council (GPC) launched a program in 2014, Green Garage Certification, to define and recognize sustainable practices in parking structure management, programming, design, and technology.  Built through the collaboration of over 200 professionals from the parking, real estate, technology and sustainability worlds, Green Garage Certification promotes a holistic approach to garage performance and sustainability and encourages the adoption of emerging smart parking and intelligent transportation tools.  In late 2014, the GPC and the International Parking Council signed a memorandum of understanding with the Green Business Certification Institute (GBCI), the certification body for LEED.  (Note: GBCI was renamed in April 2015 from the Green Building Certification Institute to reflect the changing nature of the certification and credentialing programs they manage.)  Information courtesy of

· Green Globes - The Green Building Initiative (GBI) makes available green building standards and rating systems for new buildings, existing buildings and interiors of commercial and institutional buildings through Green Globes.  GBI also maintains a credentialing program for professionals.  Two unique features of Green Globes is its online assessment tool that offers tips for further “greening” a project as well as a site visit as part of the certification process.  In addition, GBI used the ANSI standards development process to release a version of Green Globes program as ANSI/GBI 01-2010: Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings.  GBI is currently updating the standard through the ANSI Periodic Maintenance process, which they expect to complete this year.  Information courtesy of

· Living Building Challenge - In 2014, the International Living Future Institute released v3 of its Living Building Challenge.  A building certification program, the Living Building Challenge is comprised of seven performance categories called Petals: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty.  The Institute uses the Living Building Challenge as a framework for its Net Zero Energy (NZE) Building Certification program, the only program in the U.S. currently to certify NZE building performance.  The Living Building Challenge is one of three challenges; the other two are the Living Product Challenge and the Living Communities Challenge.  Information courtesy of

· Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) - The most well-known of green building programs, the LEED platform has evolved to cover new construction, interiors, operations and maintenance of existing buildings, neighborhood development, and homes.  Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC); the GBCI certifies buildings and administers the LEED credentialing program.  “More than 60,000 projects are participating in LEED across 150+ countries and territories, comprising over 11 billion square feet,” according to the USGBC.  The newest version of LEED, v4, is available for use; however, project teams can continue to register projects under the popular LEED 2009 version until Oct. 31, 2016.  Information courtesy of

· National Performance Based Design Guide - In 2014, the National Institute of Building Sciences published the National Performance Based Design Guide, housed on the Whole Building Design Guide website at  It is the first broad-reaching, performance-based standard for use by facility owners and building industry professionals.  The NPBDG is based on the updated U.S. General Services Administration P-100: Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service.  The NPBDG uses four levels of performance defined in matrices, baseline performance and Tiers 1-3 of high performance.  Information courtesy of

· WELL Building Standard - The International Well Building Institute (IWBI) launched the WELL Building Standard® in late 2014.  The WELL Building Standard® can be applied to commercial, institutional, and residential developments including new construction, core and shell, and tenant improvements.  The WELL Building Standard® sets performance requirements in seven categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. On-site post-occupancy performance assessments that include air and water testing are required for certification.  The WELL Building Standard® is certified by GBCI, the same organization that provides certification for LEED.  Information courtesy of

AGC also provides links to news on green building developments through its @AGCEnvironment Twitter account.  For more information, please contact AGC’s Melinda Tomaino at or (703) 837-5415.